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(Nation, Kenya) What next for Africa as US-China enter New Cold War era?

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Monday, 21 February 2022

What next for Africa as US-China enter New Cold War era?


Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signs a joint statement with his Eritrean counterpart Osman Saleh in Asmara, Eritrea, January 5, 2022. /Ministry of Foreign Affairs


  • The international liberal order that America helped establish some 75 years ago is falling apart.
  • No consensus has emerged so far on how to fix the increasingly anarchic post-liberal order.
By Peter Kagwanja
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The world is on the cusp of a new Cold War. On April 20, 2021, in his keynote speech to the Boao Forum economic conference in southern China, President Xi Jinping warned the world against a ‘New Cold War’, decrying the “unilateralism of certain countries”.

The international liberal order that America helped establish some 75 years ago is falling apart. As Michael Beckley, a scholar at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center recently argued, fear of China is forging a new international order. Will Africa get sucked into the new Cold War or will the continent forge a new policy to lift the mass of its poor from poverty?

No consensus has emerged so far on how to fix the increasingly anarchic post-liberal order. The US is under pressure to reassert a pax-Americana, rededicate itself and lead the liberal order.

Others, resigned to the reality that the US empire is crumbling before our eyes, are nostalgically returning to an order akin to the ‘Concert of Europe’ in the seventeenth century. In a re-imagined post-Napoleonic vague consensus among great European monarchies, the world’s great powers would form a concert to guide the international community into a new age of multipolar cooperation in the 21st Century.

Old and emerging powers will preserve their territorial and political status while assuming the responsibility and right to intervene and impose their collective will on weaker states, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

In line with this thinking, former colonial powers in Europe are courting the idea of a grand bargain, a new ‘scramble and partitioning’ of the globe into stable spheres of influence. They are using militaristic strategies such as coups and terrorism and influencing key diplomatic forums and organisations to remake new informal empires in the weaker corners of the world.

These top-down solutions to the collapsing international liberal order carry the promise of great powers renegotiating away their conflicting interests and mutual suspicions and hatreds to forge a new win-win cooperation.

New international order

These, however, are no more than solutions for the strong and the mighty. China is also crusading for a new win-win cooperation, but from below. China’s pathway to a new post-liberal order is the creation of ‘a community of shared destiny for mankind’ as a radical alternative to the top-down cooperative solutions that serves only the security interests of great powers.

Beijing is putting its money behind the vision of a new international order based on inclusive organisations of equal states and civilisations working through mutual respect and solidarity for a peaceful and prosperous world and for the greater good of humanity.

However, like the Soviet Union before it, China is facing a new policy of containment, giving rise to a new Cold War. In his new article, Enemies of My Enemy: How Fear of China is Forging a New World Order (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2022), Michael Beckley concludes that: “For the first time since the Cold War, a critical mass of countries face serious threats to their security, welfare,and ways of life – all emanating from a single source.”

The political hostility between the US and China, threats, propaganda and other measures that now characterise the New Cold War, carry eerie echoes of the containment policy against the Soviets. China is accused of trying to carve out exclusive economic zones in the global economy, ‘acting belligerently’, ‘frightening countries’ and exporting digital systems that make authoritarianism more effective than ever.

China is pushing for a cooperative model based on a peaceful and shared vision of development. The model intellectually reflects the thoughts of Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen. In his 1999 book, Development as Freedom, Sen argues that development, by its nature, enhances freedom. Peaceful development begets freedom and justice. As Nelson Mandela once said: “Peace is the greatest weapon for development.”

Lee Kuan Yew created an economic superpower in Singapore. Lee’s achievements inspired reforms that have contributed to the remaking of modern China. A slew of reforms that President Deng Xiaoping introduced under the Reforms and Opening-up firmly placed development at the centre of China’s civilisational state.

Peaceful development

Globally, as China’s power grows, it has to provide global public goods to avoid what Joseph S. Nye popularised as “the Kindleberger Trap”. In a January 2017 article, the Harvard scholar argued that America’s failure to take on Britain’s role in providing global public goods when it replaced London as the largest global power resulted in the collapse of the global system into depression, genocide and world war in the disastrous decade of the 1930s.

China has provided global public goods to promote peaceful development. In Africa, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) form a new architecture of development aligned with the African Union Agenda 2063.

As the world gropes for a post-Covid-19 recovery model, China has moved the concept of peaceful development to a whole new level. President Xi announced the Global Development Initiative (GDI) as China’s new vehicle of providing global public goods.

GDI is expected to assist the global community and the United Nations achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. It will reverse the devastating impact of the Covid-19 on developing countries, address the challenges of environmental degradation and climate change, promote green recovery and realise the principles of ecological civilisation that harmonise development and natural environment.

In the Horn of Africa, where civil wars, terrorism, disease and the effects of climate change have wreaked havoc on development, China has proposed the “Initiative of Peaceful Development”.

On January 6, 2022, during his three-nation trip to Africa (Eritrea, Kenya, and the Indian Ocean Island State of Comoros), China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced the creation of the “Initiative of Peaceful Development in the Horn of Africa” to support regional countries to address security, development and governance challenges.

Wang also announced that Beijing would also appoint a Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Affairs to help galvanise regional consensus on peace, security and development. Africa should oppose new cold war alliances and aggressive power politics. But the continent must also be firmly align with peace and development.

What next for Africa as US-China enter New Cold War era?

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